Hoi An is a draw for most people visiting Vietnam. With its charming old buildings and laid back atmosphere, it’s definitely worth spending a few days exploring this beautiful old town. We were here for four days, but could have spent weeks relaxing and wandering! Here are 6 things you should do in Hoi An.
1. Take the time to wander around in relative peace.
Chances are that at some point on your trip to Vietnam you will pass through one of the larger, busier cities. We came to Hoi An via the capital city of Hanoi, and the first thing we noticed is how quiet Hoi An is in comparison. That’s not to say that there is nothing happening there, rather that you won’t find any of the mad traffic found in the major cities. Honking motorbikes are scarce, with pedestrians largely having the run of the streets. We stayed just outside the Old Town on a street lined with sleepy bars, restaurants and clothes shops. It is a great place to unwind and relax after the bustle of the city! Take the opportunity to take it easy – go to the beach, ride a bicycle, or just wander wherever your feet take you.
2. Explore the Old Town
Hoi An is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the Old Town is the jewel in its crown. A beautifully well-preserved part of the town, it’s distinctive yellow buildings are filled with quirky little shops, eateries and art galleries.
There is an entrance fee of 120,000 VND (just under £4 or just over $5 USD) to access the Old Town. This fee will cover you for your entire stay in Hoi An, as long as you have the ticket on you. It also grants you access to a selection of cultural sites within the area, mostly consisting of old buildings and temples. We spent most of our time here exploring as there is so much to see! Make sure to walk down the little side streets. There are plenty of great restaurants and workshops tucked away, and it’s a good way to get a feel for the local life.
The streets are filled with hawker stalls. From sweet pastries, fruit and flowers to hot noodle dishes, banh mi sandwiches and traditional crispy prawn pancakes. There is something for everyone, so bring some cash and prepare to barter!
The shops are filled with local craft, such as paintings, photography, ceramics and decorative trinkets. One workshop of particular interest is the Lifestart Foundation, which provides opportunities for disadvantaged and disabled people within Hoi An. These people create beautiful handmade, fair trade items, which can be purchased from the shop. 100% of the profit goes to the maker, providing a sustainable income that wouldn’t have been available to them without the workshop. Click here to read more about Lifestart Foundation.
3. Take in the sights of the Hoi An lanterns
Hoi An is also well known for its beautiful lanterns. You can find them lining every street, bar, restaurant and market stall, however the best place to view them is along the river side. Here you will find an array of different styles, from large decorative lanterns shaped like dragons to small floating candle lanterns.
If you want to purchase your own lantern, the night market is the place to go. The shops have hundreds of lanterns on display in every colour, shape and size going. You can even catch a glimpse of the local crafts people making them during the day. Be careful upon getting the lanterns home with you as they can be quite delicate. They are also a little more difficult to pop up than they look, so be careful!
4. Stroll along the river
Both sides of the river are full of restaurants and bars, which come to life as the evening sets in. Hawker stalls appear along the river bank, selling floating lanterns and food. Paddlers in boats beckon you towards them, trying to sell sunset rides along the water. This part of Hoi An is a tourist hub, however despite this the atmosphere still feels very laid back. There is so much activity near the water during both the day and night, and many beautiful buildings to see!
You won’t find many locals eating or drinking here, but thats not to say the food isn’t good. This probably has something to do with the price. It is slightly more expensive to eat in this area due to it being so full of tourists. The food here is also not as authentic Vietnamese as you will find in some of the smaller restaurants. You will find a lot of places serving up western food as well. Although I wouldn’t recommend eating along the river for every meal, you should spend at least one lunch time or evening here sitting outside watching the world go by.
5. Visit the local market
Hoi An has a sprawling market that takes over the streets on a daily basis. Located near to the river, the market is full to the brim. Fish is the main attraction, but there are many different stalls. You will find a variety of fruit, vegetables and herbs, as well as meat, fresh flowers, noodles, rice and spices.
6. Take a cookery class
There are many different cookery classes on offer in Hoi An, due to the abundance of fresh produce in the area. We opted for the Eco Coconut Tour and it didn’t disappoint!
The tour includes a guided trip to the market in the morning to pick out your fresh produce for the class. It’s great to have someone with you who knows the local produce and can explain the variety of flavours on offer.
Following the market is a boat ride along the river. Take in the surrounding area while your guide provides some information about the agricultural region, before being transferred to a hand-woven basket boat. Don a Non La (the traditional Vietnamese hats) and float through a forest of palms to your final cooking destination.
Here you have the opportunity to do as the locals do! We took part in some fishing (I kept putting the fish back, I’m sure this wasn’t the point) and played a traditional game called ‘Bit mat dap noi’. This involved trying to smash some pots with a stick whilst blindfolded. Far more difficult than it sounds!
And finally – the food! Learn how to make a glorious Vietnamese spread. Enjoy traditional pho, crispy pancakes, papaya salad, dipping sauces, spring/summer rolls and more. Take a seat and feast on your creations whilst enjoying the beautiful laid back environment of the Vietnamese countryside.